Exclusive! Conversations With Naomi: Adam Gordon, English As A Second Language Teacher #TheRaiseAct #ESL

Adam Gordon, BA, MA
ESL Teacher

I have known Adam Gordon online for many years and continue to appreciate his presence and support on Twitter. His profession as a teacher of English as a Second language has interested me. The Raise Act  (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, the bill introduced earlier this year by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga.) was publicly backed last week by President Donald Trump 

Naomi: AdamWelcome to Conversations With Naomi. Thanks for lending your expertise. I want to get a true perspective on immigrants learning English. The Raise Act might be a negative for immigrants wanting to come to America that do not speak English. It brings the humanitarian versus economic issues of immigration to the forefront. I believe your opinion and experience is crucial to discussion of this topic.  First, I have questions about your background as it applies here. Your views as an expert on immigrants learning English is crucial. Please tell our readers what led you to pursue your profession as an English as a Second Language teacher?

Litvin Collection
Washington DC
Adam: I got my BA in history. At first, I wanted to be a history teacher. Before I got my MA, I wanted to spend some time traveling. I applied to the Peace Corps and I also applied to a job teaching English in Japan. I decided on the job in Japan. A one year contract turned into three years in Japan and one year in South Korea. I enjoyed that experience a lot. When I returned to Texas, I decided that English as a Second Language was the field I wanted to teach.

Naomi: How did teaching English in Japan and South Korea impact you? What did you enjoy the most?

Adam: I enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people. People who actually live in a country get to have a view that short term tourists don’t get. I gained a better world view by living in these countries and making friends from many countries. People who live in a new country have to learn to be adaptable. It impacted me because I know what my students go through when they try to learn a new language in the United States. I also understand what it means to move to a new country alone.

Naomi: How do the overseas learners differ from students here in USA?

Adam: The biggest difference is the exposure. When I have students here in the USA, they still practice and use English when they leave the classroom. For some students overseas, I was their entire exposure. Both Japan and South Korea have small foreign populations so there wasn’t much of a chance for English students to practice.

Naomi: What do you enjoy most in teaching non-English speakers?

Adam: I enjoy helping students reach their goals. Many want to go on for a college education but lack the academic English skills. Others just want to learn better conversational English so they can communicate better with others here in the US. Many times language learners have questions not only have the English language but also about American culture. I like being able to answer these questions and help them. Students often trust me as a teacher to ask questions more than others.

Naomi: What is the biggest challenge that you face in your profession?

Adam: Languages are not easy to learn. Students need to be patient. Teachers have to be patient when helping students. It doesn’t take long to improve language skills, but it takes a long time to become fluent in English. Some students also develop faster in one skill area than another. When a student is strong in one area like speaking but not in writing, it can be frustrating. Time management and patience are always important when learning.

Naomi: Can you explain the method used that teaches English to students when the instructor does not speak the students native language?

Adam: When it comes to the very low level students, vocabulary development is a must. I love using a picture dictionary and Google regularly. I couldn’t imagine teaching a lower level class without these tools. Vocabulary development definitely helps when building basic grammar and conversation skills. We also need to spend time on the pronunciation and the ABCs. This is hard in English because the letters and pronunciation don’t always match like they do in other languages.

Naomi: When I was in Israel taking Hebrew classes (Ulpan) I felt their system lacking in teaching Hebrew as a Second Language. Do you think the method that you use would help immigrants to Israel learn Hebrew?  Would you consider teaching ESL in Israel to Hebrew speakers?

Adam: Using pictures to build on vocabulary is always helpful when trying to teach grammar and conversation. When speakers of a new language also have to learn a new alphabet that can be challenging. As long as students are getting pronunciation practice for the Hebrew alphabet and learning the vocabulary, it could work. Taking Hebrew classes in Israel would be easier for those of us who had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah and attend Jewish services. We already know the writing. Then build on the conversation on top of that.

Yes, I would consider teaching ESL in Israel. I would still like to move to Israel at one point in time. I would like to continue the career that I have had. I enjoy adult education and I hope I will be able to find a job focusing on that when it is time.

The Raise Act is a point system for new immigrants and having English language skills is part of that. What is your feeling about how this would affect your profession as a teacher of ESL, both now and in the future? 

Adam: Learning a new language takes time and it can be challenging when people don’t get exposure regularly. Having this point system would affect ESOL education, but I don’t think it would end it. I am not clear about how much English would be necessary for entrance. College students still need academic English. Students might be conversational, but they may not have the necessary written skills to be successful in college or in their workplace. On the other side of things, some very bright people with degrees in this country still want pronunciation practice. Demand might lessen, but it will still be there.

Naomi: What is your opinion on putting more requirements such as in The Raise Act on immigrant refugees?

Adam: The life of a refugee is very hard. Every student I have had from certain countries like Syria, Myanmar, Iraq, and others have a horrible story of events that have happened to them. I do believe they deserve a chance to have a new home here. I don’t think it should be easy. Difficult vetting should be in place. However, I don’t think it’s right to turn away all refugees.

Naomi: Thank you Adam. I appreciate your insight on the subject of teaching English as a Second language and for being a welcome contributor to Conversations with Naomi. It is nice to get to know you better and I’d like to speak with you further on immigrating to another country alone. In my case, making Aliyah to Israel was very difficult and I want to go back and try to live there full-time again. I believe that when you do so, your skills and education will be helpful to Israel and that you will be a great contributor.

I know I am speaking for everyone when I say your work here in America, teaching our new citizens English is very much appreciated!

Adam Gordon can be reached on twitter at @AdamGordon1977 or you can email me at naomilitvin@yahoo.com and I will forward communication to him.